Farmers? battle for better prices in cotton production has taken a new turn in Bariadi District, Simiyu Region after they decided to cultivate onions in place of the traditional crop. (File photo)
Farmers? battle for better prices in cotton production has taken a new turn in Bariadi District, Simiyu Region after they decided to cultivate onions in place of the traditional crop. (File photo)

Speaking to The Guardian on Tuesday, Jan Manoni, who is one of the cotton-turned onion farmers, said they have abandoned cotton production because of the many challenges they face in producing the crops.

Farmers? battle for better prices in cotton production has taken a new turn in Bariadi District, Simiyu Region after they decided to cultivate onions in place of the traditional crop. (File photo)
Farmers? battle for better prices in cotton production has taken a new turn in Bariadi District, Simiyu Region after they decided to cultivate onions in place of the traditional crop. (File photo)

Manoni said, besides the low prices they get from buyers, other challenges include supply counterfeit seeds, pesticides and fertiliser that even though are not availed on time.

He said, many farmers interviewed have reported that they believe onion farming is more paying than cotton.

?Cotton price has of late not been declining. Buyers have always set the price, which has all along been decreasing annually. As a result many of us have decided to embark on onion production,? Manoni said.

Mbalonge village chairman Sagayika Masota, who is also a cotton farmer, said cotton production undercuts their production costs, and as a result many farmers have deserted its farming.

Another farmer, Zacharia Manoni, who now grows onions instead of cotton, said despite having taken to onion production, and the crop being in abundance, they are not yet assured of the market.

Many of the farmers are compelled to look for markets in their own in Mwanza, Geita, Shinyanga and Mara regions, he said.

Cotton production, which involves over 14 million people and provides for hundreds of thousands of households in Tanzania has been on the decline, particularly in the traditional growing areas in Lake Zone due various reasons.

Tanzania could lose nearly USD24m in earnings derived from cotton sales as the industry faces a decline since the 2013 crop season.

According to latest projections, cotton lint output in the country could plunge by 40 per cent, after farmers rejected the state-backed contract farming system.

Statistics released by the Tanzania Cotton Association (TCA) show that due to the deadlock, output could fall to 250,000 metric tonnes, worth USD57.9m, from the 2012 output of 354,000 tonnes valued at nearly USD8m.

In the contract-farming model, farmers are provided with inputs ? such as fertilisers, pesticides, seeds, and tractors to plough the fields ? by ginneries, to boost cotton production, volume and quality.

Agriculture is Tanzania?s mainstay, accounting for about half of the national income, while cotton is among its major forex earners.

In 2008, the government launched a cotton and textile development programme through the Tanzania Gatsby Trust at a cost of USD7.2m.

The project aimed to boost production to 1.5 million bales by the year 2015, which translates into 1,500 kgs per ha.

During harvesting season, growers say they are taken hostage by not being allowed to sell their produce elsewhere, save for creditors and at the latter?s set prices.

Farmers from Busega, Kahama and Mwanza areas are accusing the investors of supplying poor quality inputs at exorbitant prices.

The farmers say that the system is exploitative and harmful.

As a result, the TCA says the area under cotton cultivation has dropped from 1,420,000 acres in 2012 to a mere 1,050,000 in 2013.

TCA secretary general Boaz Abiero blamed some politicians for allegedly persuading cotton growers to abandon contract farming, leading to the decline of the cash crop output in 2013.

The TCA chief cited a campaign where farmers were urged not to sell their cotton for any price below 1,000 ($0.63) per kg.

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said the government initiated the contract farming model with the aim of increasing cotton production and helping farmers boost their incomes.

The premier implored the politicians and experts to engage in discussions to solve the deadlock facing contract farming in the country.

As many as 500,000 Tanzanian farmers cultivate about 485,000 ha (1.2 million acres) of cotton in the country?s northern, coastal and western regions.

Tanzania is Africa?s fifth-largest lint-cotton producer, after Egypt, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Benin, according to 2007 statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The country is the world?s 20th largest producer, according to the FAO.

By Anceth Nyahore, The New Vision

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